By Travis Downey/The Clarion-Ledger
JACKSON – Delta State has been here before.
But as the Statesmen (46-13) prepare for Sunday’s NCAA Division II College World Series opener against St. Mary’s (48-9) of Texas at the National Baseball Training Complex in Cary, N.C., it’s the path they took to get here that has veteran coach Mike Kinnison still shaking his head.
DSU has gone 8-0 in elimination games this postseason.
In a word, pitching.
In two, pitching depth.
“It’s not the number of arms,” junior Josh Branstetter (7-3, 2.79 ERA) said, “it’s the number of quality arms we have.
“We had to win five games in three days at the back-end of a tournament. Not many teams, I feel like, have the pitching quality to pull that off.”
“We wouldn’t have made it through that kind of situation without that pitching depth.”
Kinnison pointed to pitching as a prime reason why the Statesmen missed out on regional play the previous three seasons.
That’s why he and his staff ratcheted up their pursuit of pitchers on the recruiting trail — not in search of a single ace — but with designs of compiling a staff full of front-line caliber arms.
Along with Branstetter, fellow righty Aaron Newcomb (10-3, 3.33 ERA) and left-hander Colton Mitchell (8-1, 3.05 ERA) make up a stout starting rotation.
Behind them is a bullpen that is deep – six relievers have made 10 or more appearances – and effective. DSU is 39-2 when leading after six innings.
Senior closer Brandon Hardin, a former starter, sports a team-low 1.11 ERA and his seven saves is tied for third-most in a season in school history.
“We don’t have one ace,” sophomore first baseman Brent Langston said. “At any time, anybody that is on the mound can be our ace.”
Said Kinnison: “This is one of the better staffs we’ve had.”
It’s also a staff with a lighter side.
Branstetter said the group has created situation-specific celebrations for games.
In the regional, it was Mitchell’s “monkey dance.” This week, who knows.
“There’s no telling what those guys will come up with,” Branstetter said.